By the
Translated by Priscila Santos, Luis Gonzaga Fragoso
and Jana Pietroluongo

Americanisation has not brought only bad things to Brazil but also many good ones. Amongst these, the music styles such as rock, jazz, blues, funk and James Brown’s soul, which in the 70’s took over the dance halls and made black people from the favelas (shanty towns) dance, whilst the country was going through a dictatorial regime.

Brazilian black people fell in love with this American music style, and amongst them there were MV Bill’s mother and father who ended up meeting each other in a soul dance that used to take place in the orphanage located in the main Plaza of the shanty town known as City of God. This place was recently made famous through the film by the same name, which reported through fiction a bit of this story. In that place is now located the CIEP João Baptista – paying homage to a renowned local politician.

At the time the trend was to dance like the Afro-Americans, wearing the hair back combed (Afro style) with those metal combs, showing the nice grooves, the dance contests, the greetings…the soul women no longer straightened their hair, the black saw themselves as beautiful people, and all this happened through music and dance. On Saturdays at the club, which now had been turned into a community centre, the samba- canções made the couples dance the nights away. On Sundays, soul music was played – the soul from the black power movement. But it was on this era of blacks and cocotas – beach bums and babes from the favelas who listened to rock music and bodysurfed – that the war between Mané Galinha e Zé Pequeno started and grew up in the City of God.

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MV Bill was four years old at the time. The war started filling with blood the streets places where he spent his childhood, carving the walls of his flat with holes, killing his friends. It forced Adauto Corcundinha (Adauto, the hunchback) to stop working so the Samba School parades could take place in the Plaza, and scared Severino’s forró and his people away. The conflict made the heads of school suspend classes, made dancers hang around other places, put an end to the black movement and monopolized most of the cocotas.

It was an extremely sad time, however nowadays the hip hop movement, which brings together break music, rap and graffiti, discusses racial, social and political issues and is now accepted amongst communities all over Brazil.

This was the environment in which MV Bill was brought up and this is widely depicted in his music. MV Bill preaches peace, and argues in favour of other things other than the suffering caused by wars, drugs, police, poverty…. His lyrics show a belief that reading and the political consciousness and solidarity that Brazilian citizens are often believed to have, will transform themselves into an organized force to fight the violence with which Brazilian society treats its black and poor people. “Hip-hoppers want life to improve, and that is the reason why the movement has already taken a lot of young people away from the crime, made it possible for many others to give up drugs and prevented a lot of people from leading a life of delinquency… poverty can not be seen as fate”

This awareness comes to us through a music style which is the adaptation of the eastern African way of talking while singing known as Rapping linked to Jamaican music and its fusion in the 50’s with the dance flowing from the American ghetto’s during the post-Vietnam war period. MV Bill has already played partido-alto samba, he is into forró and samba-rock, has defended his father’s (the legendary Mano Juca) samba-enredo in the Samba party organized in the Grêmio Recreativo Bloco Carnavalesco Coroado of Jacarepaguá. However, he got hooked on rap and gave this style a Brazilian outlook, innovating and blending it with classical music through violins, wind instruments and the Brazilian percussion swing guitar, enabling the national rap to be recognised worldwide.

MV Bill has been a frequent target on newspapers headlines since 1998, as from the release of his 1st album CDD Mandando Fechado, bringing to daylight issues from the hood where he was born, raised and where he still lives today. During the Free Jazz Festival, MV Bill was criticised by the press when he presented himself wearing a gun on his waist while performing the song Soldado do Morro (Slum Soldier).

Katia Lund, co-director of the film City of God, directed MV Bills 1st video clip called Traficando Informação (Trafficking Information) and was MTV’s VMB prize nominee for best rap video clip and best directing.

In 2000 the police in Rio censored his clip Soldado do Morro even before it had been released nationwide. The police opened an inquiry to investigate an allegedly apology of organized crime in the rapper’s clip. The clip was censored straight after its first exhibition. Soldado do Morro had several favelas in Rio de Janeiro as its setting, and shows images of gun armed dealers and children working in the drugs traffic. The clip was banned by the carioca authorities and forbidden in all Brazilian TV stations. Bill’s only purpose was “to show the reality hidden in our daily life”. When the film City of God became successful, Bill created more kerfuffle saying that the film would not be beneficial for the community but only for the producers.

In 2002 time had come for the release of his 2nd album Declaração de Guerra (Declaration of War) and disclosure of the clip Só Deus pode me Julgar (God only can judge me). This clip shows the birth of a black baby from start to finish: the moment the mother goes into the labour room, is examined by the doctor, (the so-called, in Brazil, exam through touch), the labour itself resulting in the baby’s birth.

It is shocking at first, but after watching it for a second time it is actually quite natural due to the fact that it is the birth of a child. The birth procedures are alternated with images of Brasilia, the Senate, traffic and drugs. Só Deus me Pode Julgar was nominated for the Video Music Brasil Award in three categories: best rap clip, best clip of the year and best edition.

Another controversy concerning MV Bill is related to the documentary Falcão, os meninos do tráfico, (Falcão, the boys from the drug trafficking) directed by MV Bill and his producer Celso Athaide. The documentary would be shown on the 30th anniversary of the TV programme Fantástico on Rede Globo, but the authorization for its exhibition was refused on the previous day despite all the media apparatus involved. Different versions on why the exhibition of the documentary had been cancelled were disclosed, however MV Bill explained that the real reason was “the intention to wait for a more appropriate time to show how young people working in drug trafficking live in Brazil.” I thought people reacted to this documentary in the wrong way”. Bill made a point to stress that there was no problem at all with the TV station.

During the research for the documentary they visited several capitals and also the local communities. “In Belém, for example, the youngsters working in drug trafficking do it with huge knives. Therefore we understand that if the weapons change, people’s language and the drugs also change. But these youngsters’ reality remains the same”, Bill said. In the documentary, sixteen young people where interviewed; fifteen of them died. “We filmed their lives, heard these kids talking about their dreams and their future. And then we would end up going back there afterwards to film their funeral, because their own families would ring us up letting us know they had died.”

Leaving aside the controversy caused by the misinterpretation of his work, MV Bill has already had his work recognized worldwide, having additionally received various awards for his performance in the hip hop movement, as the UNICEF’s distinction of the year in 2004, and in 2003, and as one of the most political aware rappers for the past ten years, an award also given by UNICEF. In the World Cultures Forum, which took place in Barcelona in 2003, he received from the United Nations a document that placed him side by side with artists from other countries: the Citizen of the World award.

MV Bill is now working in the production of his next album and in the publishing of the book Cabeça de Porco (Pig Head an expression that is also a synonym of slum). This book is result of a combined work carried out mainly in two areas: interviews and filmings made by MV Bill and his agent Celso Athayde in favelas of nine estates in Brazil over the past 15 years, focussing on children and young people who live in the world of crime, their motivations and the human dimension of their lives. To this original research told with the emotion of those who watched dangerous situations in the front line, were associated narratives by the anthropologist Luiz Eduardo Soares.

A selection of ethnographical registers refined through the past seven years, on youth, violence and the police forces. These two projects crossed each other because both the interpretations and the concerns were convergent. The authors then decided to finalize their tasks with a compilation of qualitative interviews made in 2003 by teachers Hélio Raimundo Santos Silva and Miriam Guindani.

Celso and MV Bill summarised the amount of social and cultural information accumulated through their research in narratives, which they preferred to write in the first person, in order to top up their descriptions with experienced feelings and interpretations. In a constant dialogue with the co-writers, Luiz Eduardo has woven the fabric of the texts, trying to combine interpretations with the most accurate images of real life experienced by an uncountable number of characters, all of them genuine, emerged in also real situations - although the names are fictitious and the scenery slightly changed with the objective of protecting their identities, as determined by the social research ethics. In some cases he himself admitted to being the real protagonist of the stories.

He took his passage through governments as opportunities to observe the revealed episodes of the subjective and social functioning of violence and public insecurity. The book’s intent is to shed a realistic light on the violence lived in Brazil. Its aim is not to denunciate, but to share concerns and reflections, in order to keep hope alive. The book has achieved a huge repercussion in the Brazilian society, both in the main media vehicles which thanks to the book have opened room for this discussion amongst young people who live this reality, and also amongst academic personalities who believe this book will become a useful tool in helping people finding solutions for the problems hitting the discriminated youth.

It is certainly not a book that will change the reality of millions of other young Brazilians, but MV Bill is certainly doing his share, playing a role model for those who never believed it would be possible for a young black guy from a favela to achieve all that MV Bill has. He is a model for youngsters in these poor communities as well as to the wealthy elite, which by having violence knocking at their doors everyday is forced to listen now to the voice that comes from the favelas. MV Bill, the messenger of truth, knows that, and through his words he has been changing many people’s lives, both in the slum and in the asphalted city.

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